Americans really think — what?

From the national director: Statistics reveal surprising views on Bible, theology

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Many Americans have a distorted view of things we Mennonite Brethren consider irrefutable. I’ve come to this conclusion thanks in part to an interesting article in the Jan. 7, 2019, issue of Facts & Trends called “19 vital stats for ministry in 2019,” that shares statistics about Americans’ beliefs. It is an interesting read, but more so troubling in a lot of ways.

For instance, the 2018 State of Theology Study from Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research reveals that seven in 10 Americans believe there is one God in three persons, but 57 percent say God created Jesus, and 59 percent say the Holy Spirit is a force not a personal being. I wonder—kiddingly—if perhaps Star Wars has something to do with this belief about the Holy Spirit?

Those of us who identify with the Great Commission and strive to live according to these words said by Jesus just before his ascension as recorded in Matthew 28 might find it hard to believe that over half of all churchgoers say they’ve never even heard of the Great Commission. Another quarter say they’ve heard of it but can’t remember the meaning. Only 17 percent say they’ve heard of it and know what it means. Whoa!

Equally troubling is the statistic indicating that two-thirds of Christians and half of all evangelicals in the U.S. believe that many religions are a pathway to eternal life. Really? Didn’t Jesus say, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”(John 14:6)? It is unfathomable to me that half of all evangelicals would say that a religion like Buddhism or Hinduism can lead to eternal life. We have work to do, folks.

One thing in the article surprised me a little: Among Protestant churchgoers, church attendance has remained steady over the years, at least percentage wise as 45 percent say they attend church on a weekly basis. Protestant church attendance has been consistent since the 1950s. In 2017, 45 percent attended weekly. In 1955, it was 42 percent. Even among Protestant 20-somethings, a higher percentage attend today than did in the 1960s and 70s.

But there are fewer American Protestants than in previous generations. In 1955, 71 percent of Americans were Protestant. That number has fallen to 47 percent. Protestants are as faithful to church as they ever were, but there are fewer around to be faithful.

According to the article, LifeWay Research found that 49 percent of Americans with evangelical beliefs say they read at least a little bit of Scripture every day and 63 percent of evangelicals say they read the Bible at least once a week. That’s good news. The Bible is still the most read piece of literature in human history (Guinness Book of Records, 1995).

So, what does this all mean? These are just statistics, right? Do these numbers have any relevance? Well, to me it provides a glimpse into the minds of believers (and otherwise) in America. I would say we need to do a better job of educating those in our pews if half think other religions offer a place with God for eternity.

It means that many people are swayed by common thought rather than by the truth in God’s Word. I’d prefer that 100 percent of evangelicals knew the Great Commission and were living accordingly. I know that’s not realistic. But this article was written to reveal trends, some of which I feel are quite disturbing. Can we help to improve these trends? Might this cause us to shake off the cobwebs and collectively say, “Wait a minute! We need to set the record straight and investigate what God says is true!”

Don Morris
Don Morris is the USMB national director. He and his wife, Janna, live in Edmond, Oklahoma, where they attend Cross Timbers Church.

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